Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Double Camera Strap & BlackRapid RS-5 Review


This is a review of two camera straps:
- The first is a double camera strap that's -- let's be blunt -- a knockoff of the BlackRapid RS DR-1 Double Camera Strap.  This clone is by RainbowImaging and I bought it from Amazon.
- The second is the BlackRapid RS-5.

More after the jump.

THE PROBLEM
I like to shoot with two cameras for maximum versatility.  It's great because I can cover two focal length ranges (e.g. a standard zoom and a telephoto zoom) without having to switch lenses.  However, when I shoot with one camera on each shoulder, I find that my second camera tends to slip off my shoulder as I'm shooting with my first camera.  Sometimes I just use the Lowepro Slingshot 302 which allows me to switch between cameras but it's nowhere near as fast as having a camera on each shoulder.

THE SOLUTION
My co-author MShafik loves his BlackRapid RS-5 camera strap (reviewed below), which got me curious about it.  I had heard of the BlackRapid but didn't understand how it was functionally different from a regular camera strap.  It also seemed expensive too for what it is, so I never got one but kept it in mind.

When I was selecting a dual camera support system, I remembered the BlackRapid and saw that they had a dual-camera version, but I was still nervous about spending so much money on something that I wasn't sure would work well for me.  I found a fairly inexpensive version by RainbowImaging on Amazon and got that one instead.

When I tried the double strap, I learned first of all how the BlackRapid-style straps differed from regular camera straps:  a camera strap usually has a non-slip padding which prevents it from slipping but also makes it a little harder to swing the camera immediately to shooting position.  I have used one strap that was non-slip and was easier to shoot quickly with, but it also had a tendency to slip off my shoulder.  BlackRapid's innovation was to use a strap that allows the camera to slide easily along the strap using a carabiner-like attachment, with the camera suspended upside down from its tripod mount.  The idea worked very well, hence the many other similar products now in the market.

The double strap version is a logical extension of the original strap, simply connecting two single straps.  It's worn like a backpack, and can be adjusted for length.


Along the straps are two swiveling carabiners that slide easily along the ballistic nylon strap.  The camera is attached to a plate that is secured to the camera's tripod mount with a thumbscrew.  Once the camera is attached to the plate, the plate is hooked into the carabiner.


There is also a small sliding clamp (not shown here) to limit the sliding range of the carabiner.  In the original BlackRapid, there are two clamps for each strap - one in front and one behind.  In this RainbowImaging strap, there is only one clamp per strap, in front of the carabiner.

Here's how the strap looks with a standard zoom and telephoto zoom.  I like that the setup looks inconspicuous, at least from the front.



HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
I've found that the product works pretty much as advertised.  I have to take the time to attach the attachment plates to the camera every time because it's hard to store the cameras in my bag with the plates left attached.  However, once the plates are attached, it's quick to hook the cameras up to the straps with the carabiner.

The strap works well when carrying the cameras around.  Unlike having a camera strap on each shoulder, I don't have to be conscious about my cameras slipping off the shoulder, and I don't need to keep adjusting the camera strap.


When I shoot, I can reach for either camera very easily and quickly bring them up to my eye.  It's definitely faster than a regular camera strap.  For cameras with a portrait/battery grip, the attachment plate and thumbscrew do make it a little harder to hold the grip.  I'm ok with it, but I can see how someone with smaller hands may find it a problem.

One feature I like is that the camera straps can be separated into two single straps.
The dual strap can be separated into two single straps.  In this shot, you can also see the small clamp that controls the sliding range of the carabiner.
Single strap mode (excuse the bad image quality -  I was too tired to re-do the shot)
EVALUATION
Although this is a knockoff, the quality of the strap itself is not too bad.  The padding thickness feels similar to those of the padded straps on my Lowepro Nova Case Logic camera bag.  The carabiners look ok and they swivel easily but they don't look heavy duty.  The locking mechanism for the carabiners also doesn't screw in smoothly.

About the attachment plate, it appears to be the only thing that is significantly different between that of this product and the BlackRapid.  On the BlackRapid, the connectors (called FastenR-3) are small nubs.  On the other hand, this strap uses attachment plates that are each about twice as wide as small quick release plates for tripods.  The attachment plates have a rubber pad on them and are secured to the tripod with thumbscrews.

One advantage of the BlackRapid is that when the camera is used with a portrait grip, the small FastenR-3 nubs appear to be less intrusive.  The BlackRapid FastenR-3 is also made of stainless steel whereas the attachment plates here seem to be made of a lighter metal or alloy (possibly aluminum).

You can buy the FastenR-3 separately (actually there are knockoffs of it on Amazon) and use it with the RainbowImaging strap but I'm not sure if it's really better because the attachment plate has a wider surface, so it would seem that it can grip the camera better (thus making it less likely to be accidentally loosened).  When using this product, I haven't found the plates to have loosened.

Another advantage of the attachment plates is that the thumbscrew for the plate has a tripod mount itself, therefore it's possible to mount your camera on a tripod without having to remove the plate.  In practice, I've found that it works ok from landscape orientation but not portrait orientation (the camera tends to droop).

Summary of the most significant differences from BlackRapid:
- One stopper per strap vs. two for BlackRapid.
- Camera attachment is different.
- BlackRapid has several accessories.



CONCLUSION

A double camera strap is the best solution I've found for carrying and shooting quickly with two cameras.   Usually, copies of the original don't work nearly as well but in this particular case, without a direct side-by-side comparison against the BlackRapid, I don't see any functional problems with the RainbowImaging.  It might even have a better attachment system in my opinion.  If you don't mind using a knockoff instead of the original product, the RainbowImaging dual strap works.

You may also want to consider these alternatives:
1. BlackRapid RS DR-1 Double Camera Strap - from the company that started it all.  If I get paid for photography and I'm very conscious of my client's perceptions, this is probably what I would get.
2. Dual Camera Harness by Op/Tech - uses slightly different design where the camera is suspended from one point and slides from another.


3. SunSniper by California Sunbounce - Their strap has steel reinforcement to prevent theft and they have several accessories such as a backpack for their strap.

4. CS-Double 2 Camera Strap by Carry Speed - the design seems similar to BlackRapid.  Uses attachment plates like the RainbowImaging.  One difference is that they have an optional attachment to the camera that looks very robust.  They have some accessories.
5. CF-FS Double Camera Strap by Cameraslingers - again similar to BlackRapid but without a chest strap. Video review by Cameratown here.
6. Double Shoulder Belt Strap by Neewer - a BlackRapid knockoff.  Looks completely identical to the RainbowImaging except for the logo. Slightly lower price at the time of this writing.  Cheapest dual strap that I'm aware of.

DISCLOSURE
This is an independent review and I wasn't compensated by any company for doing this review.  I bought the product for myself at full retail price with my money and this is my honest opinion.  If you would like to support this blog (and am very grateful for those who have), please consider buying from the links in this post and elsewhere in the blog.  Sometimes I receive a small commission but in any case, it won't change your price at all.  It's a way for you to help us without any cost out of your pocket.

UPDATE (mshafik here):

Mic has made a great review of the double-strap, but since he has mentioned the BlackRapid, I thought I'd chime in here instead of doing a separate review.

The BlackRapid RS-5 has one main difference than the one mentioned here (and that's also the difference between it and the RS-7 version), it has pockets, three useful pockets for carrying small stuff like extra batteries, memory cards, flash gels, white balance cards, etc... Below is a quick pictorial of the RS-5, followed by a video showing exactly the main idea behind the strap.

My only personal comments are:
  • It is well padded and very comfortable for long periods
  • Having the camera turned on and ready at your side all the time is great when you're walking around shooting randomly, compared to putting the camera away in a bag after each shot, or having it hanging to your neck with the default crap strap (never ever used a single one on any of the four Canons I owned).
  • The pockets are great for carrying some cash, credit cards, a spare battery and some memory cards.
  • The fastener is very strong, it has this rubber at the bottom that when compressed makes the connection very strong. An official tip from BlackRapid is that you should moist this piece of rubber (few water drops) to make sure it won't ever get loose.
  • My only issue is that you can't set the camera down on a table with the fastener at the bottom, you have to remove it first, or do like me, just put the camera on a soft couch or a bed.
  • Of course you can't mount the camera to a tripod unless you remove the fastener first, some people work around this by attaching the strap to the tripod's quick release plate. DON'T EVER DO THAT, it is not designed to carry that load, you are risking a few thousand dollars worth of equipment to fall crashing to the ground by doing that. That's why BlackRapid stopped using the two-piece FastenR-2 and replaced it with the one-piece FastenR-3.
  • However if you have a Manfrotto quic release plate and $18 to spare, BlackRapid has a solution for you, the FastenR-T1, actually it's the first time I see it now and I will get one for myself.

Here's the Manfrotto quick release plate that people use, DON'T!

Carrying pouch for the RS-5, can be used for lots of other things.

BlackRapid RS-5

FastenR-3

FastenR-3, rubber piece

FastenR-3 mounted to the camera

Outer pocket, uses a strong magnet latch, fits a modern mobile phone

Same pocket open

One of the two internal pockets, this is the short one

The other internal pocket, the long one

The whole strap to illustrate the pockets

And here's a video showing the setup and operation of the RS-5 strap: